A Ward Family

How comfortable would you be if someone important – your prospective father-in-law, or that trophy client you’ve been courting – showed up at your door and asked to go to church with you? Can you trust your ward to be welcoming? Could you confidently send your guest into Relief Society and trust that your ward sisters would overlook the scent of tobacco?

I can. Something happened in my ward last Sunday that proved I can. Something has been happening over the past few weeks, and burst out again this morning, that proves that my ward members are consistently trustworthy.

But I can’t tell you about it, because I won’t risk embarrassing a good man. So I’ll tell you another story instead.

Brother R. was a student from Madagascar, studying in Marseille, France, in the mid-1970s. Two missionaries from Utah, clowning around and daring each other to do stupid things, saw Brother R. walking toward them on the street. One missionary, mistaking Brother R.’s dark skin and broad features as African, jabbed the other in the side with his elbow and dared his companion to stop the young man and invite him to church. (Realize, this was in the days before the 1978 revelation on the priesthood, and missionaries were not supposed to seek out black investigators.) The missionaries stopped Brother R., inviting him to church as a practical joke.

No, that’s not the kind of behavior that would reassure me of the trustworthiness of my brethren. Still, good came of it. Brother R. went to church. He listened to the discussions and was baptized. He was ordained an elder, received his patriarchal blessing, graduated from the university, and flew home to Madagascar.

The church has quite a presence in Madagascar, today. In the 1970s, Brother R. may have been the only member in the entire country. He studied his scriptures, and kept the commandments as well as he knew how, but otherwise could not do much toward practicing his religion. For fellowship, he attended a Protestant church and played the organ for their services, and eventually he married the daughter of his minister. The R.’s had four children, one right after another.

Brother R. tried to teach his wife about the gospel, but she would not listen. She told him repeatedly that one man could say anything, and unless she saw how the members of a religion treated each other, she would not listen to his teachings. Her father was a good man, she knew how the members of his congregation treated each other, and that was enough.

By 1982, Brother R. had stopped trying to tell his wife about his own church. One day Mrs. R. told Brother R. that she could tell he was unhappy – what could she do to make his life better? He told her that the only thing he needed was for her to listen to the missionaries, and the only place he knew to find the missionaries was in Marseille.

Mrs. R. agreed to go where there were missionaries, and where she could see how members of her husband’s church treated each other. Raising the roundtrip airfare for a family of six meant that they had to sell everything they owned. The R.’s sold everything, said goodbye, and flew to Marseille.

Leaving their two bags of clothing in an airport locker, the R.’s – father, mother, and four children ranging from a few months old to almost five years – found a bus, and rode it to the Marseille chapel. They didn’t know where else to go.

If the R.’s showed up at your chapel – on a Saturday – what would they find?

In Marseille, they found a small group of members cleaning the building. One of those members took Mrs. R. and the four children to her apartment to rest, while another member drove Brother R. back to the airport to pick up the family’s belongings. A young man, a student, went to his own apartment and packed a few clothes, then moved in with a friend and gave his apartment to the R.’s for however long they needed it.

I heard all this the next morning at fast and testimony meeting. My companion and I taught Mrs. R. – who soon became Sister R. – but by the time we got to her the members in Marseille had already done everything that really needed doing.

What’s your favorite story of a ward doing exactly what it should have done?

29 comments for “A Ward Family

  1. We showed up at our ward almost exactly 7 years ago. It is a large urban ward, and we didn’t know a soul. We were welcomed at every turn. It happened to be my then-three year old daughter’s first real primary experience. The Primary teacher was both lovely and kind. The Primary President expressed her hope that we would move into the ward permanently and wanted our contact information. Another lady in the hall brought me along with her down the hall to Relief Society and then she and her husband went on to INVITE US TO DINNER AT HER HOUSE. This was not the typical motherly, prepared for anything type; she was a young married lady living in a downtown loft and she invited our family of four for dinner with almost no notice. My husband was equally welcomed.

    None of these sisters still live in the ward, but I have tried to do my part to follow there examples.

  2. My sister was diagnosed with breast cancer at 32 while about 7 months pregnant. He already had an 11 year old and a 6 year old. Due to her babies development they couldn’t take the baby early and the tumor continued to grow. By the time the babies lungs were developed enough to live outside the womb my sister’s tumor had grown to the size of a grapefruit. In a 24 hour period my sister had a baby, a biopsy and a mastectomy. The only way to save my sister’s life at that point was to do very aggressive treatment. My sister was in and out of the hospital for weeks at a time, including on stay that was approximately a month to 6 weeks.

    Needles to say my brother in law had to work in order to maintain their health insurance and support their family, yet he had 3 kids to worry about. My sister’s ward was amazing. They came in and took care of her kids, including her infant child. They cleaned their home, they did laundry and brought in meals. They got the kids ready for school, took them and picked them up and did their homework with them. On too many occasions to count my brother in law would come home to find boxes of stuff from Costco and cash ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars. Their bishop, knowing of their medical expenses and losing the income my sister brought in, would call on a regular basis and ask what checks he could write for them to help them out. Their bishop did this without being asked, I am sure being completely aware of how overwhelmed by brother-in-law was.

    In the middle of my sisters long hospital stay their landlord sold their house (knowing of the situation and doing it anyway) and they had to move. The ward came in and helped prepare their new home to be moved into (lining the shelves, etc.) and packed them and moved them. They were the recipients of ward projects, scout projects, relief society projects, quorum projects and young women projects.

    I have never seen or heard of ward reaching out and doing more for a member. Several years later when my sister had her cancer recur her ward did it again. Luckily there wasn’t a third time. Par to the amazing thing is that my sister isn’t always the easiest person to deal with. She has said unkind things before and after about the people who helped her so much and they knew this, yet her ward helped her again despite that. When I think of her ward and what they did for her I think of service in its truest form and true Christ like love.

  3. Anon: I read your comment before I went to church this morning and found myself crying.

    Last year, our RS provided months of meals to a woman who was ill with cancer. This women is not a church member (she was a friend of a woman in the ward) , and until it was my turn to deliver, I had never met her. As I handed her a bag of Chinese take-out, she began to cry and said she hadn’t known such generosity existed in the world — that day after day, smiling women would bear gifts for a stranger.

  4. People tend to excel when they believe they are helping someone in real need. They would rather do the above type helping than VT/HT any day. Why?

  5. My brother suffered a traumatic hand injury working outside on his house. His ward came over to help complete the work while he healed. Not something that they needed to do.

    Re #5 — there’s a common statement that people will die for the Savior but they won’t live for him.

  6. Deborah, when I hear stories like the one of my sister or what your ward did for the non-member I am so pleased at the kind of church we have. It reminds that despite all of the flaws there are such good, kind people. I cried when I wrote it and cry when I think about it. I seriously am amazed at them. When I do something nice for someone and they say something unkind about me it devastates me. I cannot imagine turning around and helping financially, emotionally and spiritually again after that-yet they did.

    anon-not to be confused with me (the Anon who wrote about my sister), I think we want to truly help people-not do the little things we aren’t sure make a difference. I think mot people truly want to help people. The flipside is that when we don’t take the time to build relationships then the people we need to love and serve will not call on us when they need assistance.

  7. In the Spring of 2001 I was serving as bishop of our ward. I received a phone call one Sunday morning before church from a man named Rick who identified himself as a non-member and said he wanted to talk to me. I said that church would be starting in about 30 mintues but that I was free until then. It turns out he was in the parking lot calling from his cell phone and he knocked on my door about a minute later. We talked for a few minutes before he broke down in tears. He told me he had just retired from the Army Rangers and some of things he had seen and done caused him to be concerned about his salvation. He said he felt like he didn’t have a friend in the world. I invited him to attend sacrament meeting, which happened to be testimiony meeting. I introduced him to another man, named George, who was a recent convert. As the meeting progressed and the testimonies continued Rick was moved by the spirit and he asked George if it would be OK for him to stand and say something. George told him that was what testimony meetings were for. Bob walked up on the dais and we exchanged smiles, then he poured his heart out to the congregation and we were all overwhlemed by what he said.

    In the days that followed Rick received the discussions from the missionaries and the mission president, who lives in our ward, was also included in those discussions. We saw the tears in Rick’s eyes turn into smiles. Before he was baptised his job as a security consultant took him to Guam for a 3 week trip. When he returned he came to see me all excited and told me he had met a woman named Lisa who he wanted to marry. He had a crazy plan cooked up whereby he would meet her at the airport (she was coming the next weekend) and he would propose to her as she got off the plane. Then he wanted me to marry them right there at the airport gate. Without going into all the details let me just say that bloodtests, jurisdictions and airport security put the kibosh on Rick’s plan. But even though they didn’t get married at the airport Rick had alternate plans.

    He DID propose to her at the gate (this was prior to 9/11 when you could still meet someone at the gate) and he wanted the two of them to get married and baptised the following week. The two of them came to church the next day and Rick insisted that I meet privately with Lisa. She told me that she could see how much happiness Rick had found in the church and she definately wanted to learn more but she thought she should wait until she had a chance to understand more about the church. I told her I thought that was a good idea.

    On Sunday and Monday nights they had more discussions and on Tuesday went to the temple visitor’s center to see The Testaments. And suddenly Lisa changed her mind and wanted to be baptized with Rick. The ward members all pitched in to help. The sisters in the ward helped Lisa shop for dresses for her and for Rick’s two teenage daughters. Others planned the reception and on Saturday afternoon Rick and Lisa were married at 1:00 p.m., a reception was held at 2:00 p.m. in the RS Room and at 4:00 p.m. they were both baptized.

    I was so overwhelmed by the way the ward members collectively put their arms around Rick and Lisa and loved them into the church. Rick and Lisa moved away about 6 months later. And since then I have lost touch with them. I fear they might have slipped away from us but I am confident they have a good memory of their introduction to the church.

  8. Thanks all. I don’t have time to share my good experiences right now, but its been good for the soul to read yours.

  9. Correction to comment #8 – Near the end of the first paragraph it should read “Rick walked up on the dais…” That’s what I get for trying to change names to protect the innocent.

  10. Re lamonte’s fears that Rick and Lisa may have slipped away: I wondered the same thing about my R.’s. Two or three years ago I checked the patriarchal blessing index and discovered that the R. children had all received their blessings in the recent past, so I knew that the family was still with the church. Happy day.

  11. Ardis – I’ve never heard of the “patriarchal blessing index”. Can you tell me how to access it?


  12. During my growing-up years we were in a ward where some of the members made their living through farming. One family owned a small dairy farm, but the father developed an illness that kept him in bed for several weeks. The cows didn’t care, they still needed to be milked morning and night. I was only 7 or 8 years old at the time but I can still remember getting up early (4:a.m.) to go with my dad and brothers and fill a shift on milking duty. It was also haying season, and I remember my dad getting us out of school for two days in a row in order harvest hay. Years later, after my mission, I was back visiting my parents on a fast Sunday and the mother of the farmer’s family bore her testimony. Although I had forgotten most of the details of our work on their farm, she described that event as one of the greatest blessings of her life. She spoke of being sick with worry for her husband, fearing he was near death. She was also worried about the farm, the cows, and the financial obligations. She described the joy and relief she felt when she looked out her window one day and saw the men of the ward down in the hayfield.

    I think it’s great that the men in my dad’s quorum were able to just step in like this, and this experience, and others like it, are an important part of my testimony.

  13. lamonte — the patriarchal blessing index is the tool used at the desk in the church office building where you order replacement copies of your misplaced patriarchal blessing; it’s available only there in the building. You or the missionary working at the desk look up your name to find that your blessing was given on [date] and recorded in [vol. X, page Y], so they know where to find it for photocopies. One of the traits that makes me a successful researcher is getting creative with available sources — obviously the index isn’t intended to be used to check up on people I taught as a missionary … don’t tell …

  14. We had a great family in our ward (which is a ward of newlyweds and nearly-deads–very transient). The father was pursuing a grad degree, and the mother gave birth to twins, who needed intensive care. The mother also had serous complications at birth and had to be hospitalized for a month–long after the twins had been released. This couple were the only converts in their families, and far from their own parents, so the ward became their family. We all took turns helping with cleaning and cooking, and the RS president took care of the babies (with all of us pitching in a few hours a week.) It was a month long time of bonding. A very sweet memory.
    Thanks for this post, Ardis. I think you are such a superb example of so many Christian qualities.

  15. Depends on the day. It has been a bit difficult to realize that I am an OLDER faculty member at BYU, and an OLDER member of my ward. (The first time I was called “Sister Young” by one of the NWs was quite a shock.) We just put in a new member of the bishopric who is my daughter’s age. So I’m much closer to being nearly dead than newlywed. And there are days when someone looking at me might decide they should feel for a pulse.

  16. Thanks so much for all of you who have posted. These posts make me want to be a better person so much more than posts about how judgmental church members are.

  17. Ardis, you are so kind!

    I loved this story, but not the teaser. Still, I have seen great good and great stupidity in every ward and from myself. Amen to Dave in #19.

  18. I\’ve been in quite a few Wards in and outside of Utah of varying economic levels. Generally, I\’ve found that Utah Wards are more \”Wards for Families\” rather than \”Ward Families\” and that the higher economic levels of the members the less friendly the Ward.

    When I was a young man, right out of High School, I had joined the LDS Church and shortly thereafter immigrated to Utah. This was in 1974 and I was a long haired, shabbily dressed youth with little more than a testimony and desire to live around more members. I made the trip to Utah from Washington on a Kawaski 400 motorcycle with a few clothes thrown in a backback and camped out of doors. I eventually landed at the KOA campground outside of Draper where I attended the Draper 4th Ward. At this time Draper was still a sleepy farming community. The members weren\’t quite sure what to make of me but within a week they had provided me with employment followed by several invitations to move into their homes. I stayed in the KOA campsite for a couple of months but eventually moved in with the Bishop\’s family where I stayed until I left for a mission in September of 1975.

    After graduating from BYU my wife and I spent the next 20 years in Denver. Our Colorado Wards were very good and we developed close ties. We not only raised our children there but had major influence with other Ward families. For example, we attended each other\’s baptisms, scout camps, taught early morning seminary, etc. Although we now live in Utah we are still involved with our Colorado friends and frequently visit with their children who are attending BYU or UVSC.

    We moved to Highland, Utah nearly five years ago because our youngest son was having difficulties with drugs and Church activity. We had hoped that a new environment might have some positive influence also my wife\’s parents live close by and have always had a close relationship with him. We chose an affluent area outside of Alpine within the Lone Peak High School boundaries. The Ward consists mostly of younger wealthy families and was at the time growing exponentially. Our son eventually got deeper involved in drugs and died from an overdose. But this story is not about him.

    I was and am still appaled by the indifference of the Ward members. We hear all the time in Sacrament meetings about how \”Highland is a special place and people are drawn to the area by the spirit\”. Yet, after five years my wife and I still have not cultivated close friendships. It appears that the people are so involved with their own families and business that they don\’t have time for anyone else. Maybe we just are outside of the social loop of the Church. The Church is structured primarily for parents under 50 with children. Young adults and older people are not as included.

    However, lest I be judged simply as someone with social problems I will conclude with two additional positive experiences. Last year I was asked to serve at a BYU Student Stake. In this capacity I have developed close ties with other adults called from the Highland and Orem areas to server for a couple of years. Two years ago we purchased a townhome in St George. We attend our St George Ward once a month and enjoy it so much that we have considered relocating.

  19. Ken,

    I have had experiences similar to yours, especiall that of yours in St George. We only lived there a couple of months, but I felt more connected there in the short time we were there than I had in “wards for families” like you describe.

    We are now in a wonderful ward, and are in it by accident. We moved here on a Friday night, and called the mission home to see where we attended (no other resource was available to us at the time). The elderly missionary who answered the phone read the boundary map wrong, and gave us directions. he read the map wrong, but sent us to the ward we needed to be in. It was months before we found we were living outside the ward’s boundaries. We have since moved, and are legitimately living where we belonged the whole time. They don’t always reach out the way we would want sometimes, but they sincerely try.

  20. cs eric, we had a similar experience. my husband was inactive till we were married and someone reading an old boundary map that placed us in the ward made a world of difference in our lives. it’s amazing how things work out. i don’t believe that my life would be as wonderful as it’s been without that ward and the people we met there. it truly was a magical ward.

    first anon (with the sister), we also had a similar experience within our ward. a member’s somewhat hostile non-member wife was placed on bedrest for an entire pregnancy and i could NOT believe what the ward did for her. meals were brought in five days a week, other moms took the kids to and from school and activities, the yw came over to entertain the kids a few hours a day, and so on. and they all did so with huge smiles and open hearts. it was amazing to watch and to participate. until i met the woman, i was sure that it was a well-executed conversion effort. within minutes of meeting her, i was SO sure that conversion was nowhere on the lists of reasons to help the family.

    i would love for everyone to visit our ward, if only once. you’d all up and move here, i’m sure. our ward is diverse and progressive and just amazing. i adore it. my husband doesn’t disclose his profession for many reasons and on the way to our first sunday at our ward, he gave me the standard lines of what to say if asked about his job. we were approached by several people as we walked in and after we sat in the pew, my husband leaned over. he whispered that he had told everyone not only who he works for, but his specific job as well. “everyone is so NICE,” he said. “i just couldn’t help it!” he was right!

  21. We have lived in our ward for nearly 15 years. Our feelings for our ward were sorely tested when we experienced a tragedy of sorts. We had a house fire and were out of our home for nearly a year. We continued to attend our ward throughout the entire time. When we found an apartment about one week after the fire, there was no help from the ward whatsoever. The RS president called a few days later and asked if I had found some men to fulfill a canning assignment. I almost laughed, but indicated that yes, I had filled the assignment. She called a week or so later and stated, “Not that you’re settled, how about we bring some meals in.”

    While we survived, we really needed help the first 2-3 days we were in the apartment because we had absolutely nothing. We could perhaps understand if we were unknowns in the ward, but we had served in many leadership positions over the years, and I was then in a leadership position in the ward. My wife is always taking meals into someone and otherwise helping in a variety of ways.

    It was odd that my wife’s family’s ward took so many meals into them (they thought we were living with her family), but no meals were brought into us.

    We were hurt by the fact that we were ignored by the ward members, and especially by those we considered friends and for whom my wife had done so many things. We briefly considered moving, but did not.

    We decided to use it as a learning experience and try to be more sensitive to the needs of others when they arise.

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